The feedback that Jefferson City Public Schools' leaders received Thursday night at a second town hall on potential start time changes hadn't changed much from the first town hall Tuesday, but what was different was that JCPS talked about more information-gathering the district wants to do before a decision is made.
JCPS is considering whether to synchronize its school start times to have all elementary buildings start at one time and all secondary buildings at another, one hour apart. District officials have said the change would save up to about $500,000 annually in bus transportation costs — a total of savings and avoided costs. It might also help alleviate existing busing delay issues and new route challenges with the addition of Capital City High School this coming fall.
The school district has three options — have elementary schools start an hour before the middle and high schools; have the middle and high schools start an hour before the elementary schools; or keep the current schedule with start and end times of the school day that vary by building.
Any change's effect on families' child care needs — whether families would have the ability to pay for child care being another question — continued to be a primary concern Thursday at the town hall at Thomas Jefferson Middle School after Tuesday's at Lewis and Clark Middle School, as did questions including about how long students might have to spend on buses, whether students would be more tired, and how much time students would have left after school for activities, homework, employment, family time and sleep.
JCPS officials said they're looking at different ways to get more information to try to determine what might work best for people.
Superintendent Larry Linthacum said the district would be doing a survey of day care providers in the community.
JCPS Director of Quality Improvement Brenda Hatfield said she's identified approximately 40 day cares in Jefferson City, and the district wants to know — regardless of how big or small the capacity of an individual provider is — whether they offer afternoon care; what their price is; what their availability is; and whether the day care would be affected by start time changes.
The district currently collectively pays staff $15,000 a year for supervising students before or after school.
JCPS Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf said there's no specific care service currently provided for district staff who need day care for their own children because of the current school start time schedule, but while not making any promises, a goal would be to have a district-provided service to meet those needs.
"We've heard from both sides," Shindorf said of how potential start time changes might affect students' families — he said some said their child care costs would double or triple, while others said their costs would be lowered.
"We do have a responsibility to work with families (on child care), because we have working families," Linthacum said.
However, "I have a concern subsidizing daycare costs," JCPS Board of Education President Steve Bruce said of a more specific idea, adding that's a slippery slope. "I don't want (the district) to be in a position of (determining) who receives those funds and who doesn't."
Hatfield also said she and JCPS Director of Communication Ryan Burns would be facilitating some focus groups with students on how they think they might be affected by potential start time changes or if they have concerns with the current system.
"I don't know that we've ever asked them," Hatfield said.
She said at least five or six groups of students are desired — students who are diverse in their after-school schedules and responsibilities, ethnicities, income backgrounds and academic rigor of their classes — and she and Burns are working with school principals to get a good cross section of students: 10 students from Thomas Jefferson, 10 students from Lewis and Clark, 20 students — in two groups of 10 — from Simonsen 9th Grade Center; a group of Jefferson City High School sophomores; and another group of JCHS juniors.
JCPS Board of Education is expected to receive a recommendation for a start time change option at its Feb. 25 meeting, and then a decision on approval will be made at its March meeting.
Bruce said the intention has always been to give people in the community as much opportunity to share feedback as possible — adding he voted against a similar start time change proposal several years ago under a previous superintendent because that feedback hadn't been sought at the time.
Bruce said he welcomed people to contact the district with their comments and concerns, and to make comments at the upcoming board meetings.